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Comparison of the Responsivity of Solution-Suspended and Surface-Bound Poly(N-isopropylacrylamide)-Based Microgels for Sensing Applications

Li, Wenxiang, Hu, Liang, Zhu, Jinghua, Li, Dan, Luan, Yafei, Xu, Wenwen, Serpe, Michael J.
ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces 2017 v.9 no.31 pp. 26539-26548
chemical composition, crystals, electrodes, glass, gold, ionic strength, light intensity, light scattering, pH, phase transition, quartz, temperature, transmittance, ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy, viscoelasticity, viscosity
In this submission, the phase transition behavior for poly(N-isopropylacrylamide-co-acrylic acid) (pNIPAm-co-AAc) microgels and their assemblies was investigated as a function of temperature and pH using UV–vis spectroscopy (to probe light scattering behavior) and quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation (QCM-D) measurements. PNIPAm-co-AAc microgels were “painted” onto Au-coated glass substrates (for UV–vis) and the Au electrode of a QCM crystal to generate monolayers. The subsequent deposition of another Au layer on top of the pNIPAm-co-AAc microgel layer yields what is known as an etalon. UV–vis/QCM-D measurements revealed that the temperature and pH responsivities for the microgel assemblies match well with their solution behavior. UV–vis spectroscopy shows that the transmittance of the microgel monolayers decreased with increasing solution temperature at pH 3.0. At pH 6.5, the AAc groups in the microgels were deprotonated, leading to strong Coulombic repulsive forces inside the microgels that prevented their collapse and lead to minimal change in the transmitted light intensity. However, QCM-D analysis reveals more complex behavior as it is sensitive to the viscosity/viscoelasticity and thickness changes of the microgel layer, which ultimately depends on the microgel chemical composition and the interaction of the etalon’s Au layer with the crystal. The maximum sensitivity to temperature is 0.8 × 10–³ °C·Hz–¹, which is the most sensitive pNIPAm microgel-based QCM temperature sensor thus far reported in the literature. Finally, we exploit this new understanding to characterize the pH and ionic strength of a solution using pNIPAm-co-XAAc microgel-based etalon coated crystals. The research results and the sensing demonstration can inspire new and improved sensor designs for a variety of analytes.